Down & Dirty: Crow
When a woman from his past shows up asking for his help, Crow's not sure he can be the hero she's looking for.
Crow, self-proclaimed bachelor biker, can't believe his eyes when a woman from his past shows up at his tattoo shop. She not only needs him to cover up a scar created by a rival MC but is looking for a hero to help her heal and officially move on from a tragic incident. One that dragged her into the darkness against her will and extinguished her light for years. While willing to help, he's not sure he can be everything she needs him to be. How can he help her when he hasn't even faced the demons that haunt his own past?
Six years ago, Jazz left Shadow Valley when a life-altering assault changed her outlook on the world—and men—forever. Now she's back to deal with the scars, both physical and mental, left behind. While hoping Crow will help her with both, she's afraid he won't be willing. Crow always considered her too young, now she's worried he only sees her as broken. However, Jazz knows there's no one better than the long-time DAMC member to help her move on. Not only determined for her past to stop controlling her future, she needs to replace those memories with something better, while knocking down the barriers holding her back.
But will their age difference be the biggest obstacle of them all?
Note: While this book can be read as a standalone, because of storylines that span the series, it's best to read them in order. It includes lots of steamy scenes, biker slang, cursing, some violence and, of course, an HEA. If you like alpha males who like to take charge, this book is for you.
Release date: March 9, 2019
Publisher: Double-J Romance, Inc.
Print pages: 296
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Listen to a sample
Down & Dirty: Crow
Jeanne St. James
Crow heard the front door buzzer sound over the whine of his tattoo machine. He glanced up and his heart skipped a beat. Quickly pulling his boot off the foot pedal, he put the gun down on the tray before the straight line he was drawing became a wavy mess.
She was the last person he ever expected to walk into his shop.
He almost didn’t recognize her. She’d changed.
This was not the girl he knew. The person who stood just inside In the Shadows Ink was not the same woman he knew all those years ago.
Recognizable, but not.
He pushed to his feet and, before he could stop himself, took long strides across the shop floor, ignoring the complaints from the customer abandoned in his tattoo chair.
Crow never slowed as he approached her, even as her green eyes darkened, slightly widened and quickly filled with a little bit of uncertainty.
He ignored that, too.
When he got to her, he gathered her in his arms, crushing her against him tightly. She stiffened, her spine becoming ram-rod straight, her arms hanging like metal poles at her side. But he wasn’t letting her go.
He needed to hold her, make sure she was real.
He needed proof that she still existed, since he’d wondered if she’d disappeared forever.
Finally, a whimper came from the woman whose face he had shoved into his chest, inside his cut. His arms and black leather vest surrounded her slight body like the wings of a bird protecting its young.
Though, she was no baby bird.
Hell no, she wasn’t.
She was a survivor.
Her rigid body suddenly went soft, melted against him and she began to tremble. Her thin arms snaked around his waist under his cut and she squeezed him just as tightly as he did her, her fingers fisting in his T-shirt at his back. He pressed his face into her hair and closed his eyes.
He didn’t know why she was here. He didn’t care. All he knew was, she was home.
“Jasmine,” he murmured. And, fuck him, if he didn’t feel the sting of something caught in his eye. He blinked it clear.
“Hey!” his customer yelled. “Have your fucking touching reunion another time. I’m paying you to get this thing done today.”
Jazz jerked within his arms at those irritated words.
“That’s okay, Kachina, I got this,” he murmured into her hair. Without letting her go, he twisted his head and pointed his gaze to the man sitting in his plastic-wrapped chair. “I’m closed. Get gone.”
“Didn’t fuckin’ stutter. Closed. Family emergency.”
“But—” the man sputtered.
“Wipe it down, keep it covered, keep it clean. A&D Ointment. Come back in two weeks, I’ll finish it on the house. Got me?”
“Ain’t no buts.” Crow jerked his chin toward the door. “Out.”
With a grumble and a scowl, the man climbed out of the chair and nabbed his nearby T-shirt. Crow tracked him as he passed by, keeping Jazz’s face tucked against his chest.
“Two weeks,” the man said before heading out of the front door.
Crow gave him a sharp nod. “Two weeks. No charge.”
“Right,” Crow echoed him.
Once the door closed, Crow took a long, deep inhale and slowly let it out. Then he released her and held her out in front of him by her shoulders, so he could take a better look. “Kachina,” he murmured. “Baby.” While on the surface she looked okay, it didn’t mean she was.
Her blonde hair was now dark. Actually pitch black, making her fair skin look even paler.
He hated it.
She wore thick black mascara, and too much caked-on shit covered the natural beauty of her face.
He hated that, too.
But it was her eyes. Something she couldn’t change, couldn’t hide, that twisted his insides. Those formerly vibrant green eyes seemed hollow. Empty. Dull.
Nothing like when she was twenty-two. The last time he saw her. When she was Hawk’s house mouse. When she was a college student. Carefree.
Living the good life. Not a care in the world. Her whole future ahead of her.
That future had been kicked right in the fucking nuts.
Wrong place. Wrong time.
She had been collateral damage in a war that she had no business being a part of.
Yeah, she was DAMC because her grandfather was one of the oldest members who wasn’t in prison, or underground. But she never asked for any of it.
Her mother wanted better for herself and her daughter, so Jazz’s parents had moved hours away after she was born. Different town. Different state. Different life. Until they couldn’t afford their daughter’s college tuition.
So at eighteen, Jazz returned to Shadow Valley. Back to the club. Back to her grandparents so the club could cover the cost of her education.
What was supposed to help her turned out to hurt her instead.
And afterward, she returned home to New York. To heal. To hide. To forget.
He never thought she’d be back. No one ever thought she’d return.
She’d ignored everyone’s calls, texts, and emails for the past six years.
Every fucking one of them.
He wondered, why now? And why him?
Maybe she’d stopped at church or The Iron Horse Roadhouse before heading over to his shop.
“You back to stay?”
She shook her head, not meeting his eyes. “No, I finished my degree online a while ago. There’s no reason for me to stay. I only came to see you.”
“Grizz an’ Momma Bear are two good reasons. They miss you.”
She nodded, staring at the floor. “Yeah, I’ll visit them before I leave.”
She tilted her head, peering up at him through that thick black mess of eye goop. She needed to wash that shit off her face. It wasn’t her. It wasn’t Jazz. “I... Kiki... It might be too hard. She’ll understand.”
“She feels it was her fault,” he murmured. “We all tell her it wasn’t. Might need to hear it from you.”
“Crow...” she whispered.
“Kachina, Keeks needs to hear it from you. Thinkin’ it’ll be good for you both.” He reached out for her arm, but she jerked it away and took a step back.
“I don’t know if I can do that.”
Crow studied her for a moment. She’d matured since he’d seen her that very last time, broken and battered in that hospital bed. Since then, her curves had slightly rounded, but not enough. Her breasts had become just slightly fuller. But her waist was too narrow, her face too thin. Her long legs like sticks in her torn jeans and tucked into heavy black combat boots. She was doing her best to stay unnaturally skinny, avoid the curves that may attract men. She wanted to remain unnoticed. Unapproachable.
No matter what, he could see her clearly. She was trying to hide who she should be, but she couldn’t hide from him.
Whether she wanted to or not, she needed to stick around for at least the next six months so Mamma Bear could feed her well. Fill the hollows of her cheeks, put some flesh on her bones. Grow out that dyed hair and scrape that shit off her face.
Jazz was still there, hidden by someone else. She was wearing a mask. Wearing armor.
“Grizz an’ Momma Bear know you’re in town?”
“But you’re goin’ to see ‘em?”
That didn’t sound convincing. “Swear?”
To avoid him, her gaze bounced around the shop, landing on the now empty chair, the sketches taped to the walls, the uneven piles of ink magazines. His shop wasn’t fancy, but it was efficient. It did the job, making him and the club decent money.
“So then... what’re you doin’ here, Kachina?”
“I need ink and I know you’re the best. I’d be a fool to go elsewhere.”
She had walked across the room and now stared at the flash tattoo designs that every tattoo shop in America had on their walls. But Crow hated doing the ordinary. He preferred custom art and always tried to convince his customers to go that route. He’d even teamed up with Jag to design some specialty pieces to tattoo on customers willing to pay some major scratch for an M. Jagger Jamison original.
“Got somethin’ in mind?”
She shook her head, still staring at the boring tattoos that everyone and their brother had. Anchors. Hearts. Roses. Typical tribal bands worn by white boys thinking they were cool but would never understand those designs meant nothing.
“Gonna make somethin’ special, just for you, then.”
She nodded but still said nothing.
“C’mere, baby,” he whispered.
Her head dropped, and her body went still.
“C’mere,” he whispered again.
She slowly turned, her eyes shadowed, biting her bottom lip.
“Need to make sure you’re real. You’re really fuckin’ here.”
She nodded silently and slowly moved toward him. But he met her halfway and wrapped her tightly in his arms again. He couldn’t get her close enough. He wished he could absorb her until he could take her past and all of her pain away, then help her move on and get back to the life she deserved.
“Missed you, Kachina,” he murmured into her hair. “So fuckin’ glad you came to me instead of some other random ink slinger.”
She lifted her face and he pulled his head back to look down into her eyes. “I wouldn’t go anywhere else.”
He nodded, and his nostrils flared as he tamped down everything that was running through him.
After a moment, he let her go and moved back, giving her some space. “Where you want it?”
When her hand fluttered to her lower belly, he froze. He closed his eyes for a second. Hell, more like thirty seconds. Maybe even a minute. He’d never seen what they did to her. He’d only heard about it. He’d have to see it if he tattooed her there. He’d have to see where the Shadow Warriors left their permanent mark with a knife. Left their message to the Dirty Angels.
It wasn’t enough to rape her. They destroyed her inside and out.
They left behind a clear message to all of them on just how vulnerable they were.
“Scar tissue’s tough, baby. Gotta know that.”
“The plastic surgeon did his best, but I can still see it. I see it every day, Crow. I don’t want to see that ugliness anymore. I want to see something beautiful. I need you to do this for me.”
He didn’t want to see it. He didn’t. He wanted to say no. Tell her it was impossible.
But she’d just go elsewhere. And that would be even worse for him. Knowing that she’d trust some stranger to make things better because he refused to. Or worse, she’d end up with some scratcher who would make it more of a mess, leaving behind a tattoo that looked like a kindergartener drew it.
His words caught in his throat, so he stopped, cleared it and tried again. “Jazz, gotta see it. Gonna have to show me so I know what I’m gonna be workin’ with.”
She stared at him for a moment, her eyes heartbreakingly empty. Then something switched inside her, almost as if she mentally shook herself, and she nodded. Her hands reached for the buttons on her jeans and he made a noise before he could bite it back.
“Hang on,” he muttered, walking quickly to the front door, locking it and flipping the “open” sign to “closed.”
Then with measured steps, he took his time moving back to her as she stood in the center of his shop under the harsh fluorescent lights.
He could hardly get the words out. “’Kay, baby. Show me.” He braced as her trembling hands unbuttoned her jeans. The zipper being lowered sounded way too harsh in the quiet shop.
He could hear someone’s ragged breathing. Was it his?
Fuck no. It was hers. He was holding his breath. Waiting.
Fuck. He didn’t want to see what those bastards did to her. It was better if he didn’t.
She shoved her jeans down slightly and he caught a glimpse of black panties, then her hand fisted her shirt and she slowly tugged it up.
His heart thumped loudly in his ears, the lump in his throat went nowhere no matter how many times he tried to swallow it down.
“Jesus fuckin’ Christ,” slipped through his lips before he could stop it.
Her whole body jerked, and she quickly released her shirt and covered herself back up.
He needed a better look. He didn’t get a clear enough view of it. He needed to see what he was working with.
Those fuckin’ motherfuckers.
If he thought she was pale before, she was a ghost now. Her green eyes, rimmed with tears, appeared huge in her white face.
“I... I know... it’s...”
Crow shook his head. “No, Kachina. Whatever you’re thinkin’... Just no.”
He approached her, and her wide eyes followed his every step. When he got toe to toe with her, he dropped to his knees at her feet. Moving slowly, he lifted her shirt carefully.
“SWMC” had been carved with a blade into her lower belly. It had been cut deep into her tender, young skin.
So deep that the letters that bastard Black Jack had marked her with were still visible along with the suture marks, even after a plastic surgeon had most likely done his best. The lines were thin and ragged, but they were still there.
They’d never be gone. So he understood her need to cover it. But he wasn’t sure if what he could do would be good enough.
“Doctor can’t do nothin’ more?” he asked softly. Because if he could, she needed to go that route first.
“No. I waited to see you until they did everything they could. They’re done. But it’s still there.”
“Yeah,” he murmured. “Gonna touch it, ‘kay, baby?”
She didn’t answer him, but when he glanced up at her, she was nodding.
“’Kay. Tell me to stop if you gotta. Need to see what I’m workin’ with here. Yeah?”
“Yeah,” she breathed.
With one hand holding her shirt up only to right above the top of the scar, he spread his fingers and gently touched her. He traced the tips over the marred skin, feeling the thickness, the toughness of the scar tissue. Wondering how the fuck he was going to do this for her.
How was he going to fix her?
What should be smooth skin, a perfect canvas for his art, was anything but.
He kept talking slow and soothing. “Gonna be painful. Gonna have to trace it. Design it. Gonna take some time.”
At least it was a good reason for her to stick around for a little while.
“Ain’t gonna get it done in one sittin’. Gonna be crawlin’ out of your skin from the pain, Kachina. Just want you to know that. Gotta do it in short sessions. Got me?”
“I would love to crawl out of my skin,” she whispered.
He glanced up again. She was staring down at him, something haunted behind her eyes. “Not in this way, baby. Might be unbearable.”
“I’m used to pain.”
Crow winced at her soft words. “Wish I could take that from you but I fuckin’ can’t. Gonna do what I can, though. Promise you that.”
He wasn’t sure he could do that, but he’d damn well try.
He nodded and pushed to his feet, tugging her hand and drawing her over to the tattoo chair. “Ain’t gonna do nothin’ tonight. Just gonna trace it. Start drawin’ tomorrow, yeah?”
“I can’t stay here too long, Crow,” she said as she slid onto the reclined chair and laid back.
He grabbed a marker and a large sheet of tracing paper and headed back to the chair. He glanced down at her as she laid there, her jade green eyes staring up at him. Trusting.
With all that she went through, she trusted him.
He couldn’t let her down.
“Gonna place this over the area an’ trace it out, ‘kay? So I know how big of a design I need to make.”
She nodded and pulled her shirt higher with one hand, while shoving her open jeans down lower with the other.
He settled onto his stool and rolled closer. He carefully placed the tracing paper over her damaged skin and with the Sharpie made some marks. Where her protruding hip bones were. The top of her pubis bone. Her belly button. Mapping out his canvas.
When he was done, he lifted it and put it on the tray next to him. As she started to tug her clothes back into place, he stopped her. “Wait.”
She jerked when he lowered his head and placed his cheek over that area, facing away from her.
I’m sorry, baby. So fuckin’ sorry.
Her stomach rose and fell under his cheek with each breath she took, and he closed his eyes. He wasn’t sure how long he stayed that way, but eventually her hand smoothed over his hair, down his long braid. Then he felt it, her fingers pulling off the band at the end, untwisting each plait.
Normally, he didn’t want anyone touching his hair, but he didn’t stop her.
He allowed her to do something he didn’t allow anyone else. Slowly, methodically, she worked at it until his hair fell free. She smoothed it across her exposed skin and began to lightly comb her fingers through it.
“I love your hair. Always have. I’ve always wanted to do that,” she said softly. “The color is beautiful.”
He turned until his left cheek laid along her belly and he faced her. “The color belongs on me. Doesn’t on you.”
She nodded. “I needed a change.”
“It’s not you, Kachina.”
“I don’t know who I am.”
Hearing that made it feel as if a knife stabbed him in the gut. A pain he wouldn’t soon forget. “She’s still in there. Maybe you can’t see her clearly, but I can. I see you, baby. And everyone else will remember who you are, too. Nobody’s forgotten. Gonna take a while for that tat. While you’re here, everyone will wanna see you.”
“Not sure if I’m ready for that.”
“At least Grizz an’ Momma. Yeah?”
“I promise I’ll visit them before I go. But truth is...” Her words paused, but the movement of her fingers in his hair didn’t. “I didn’t come to see you just for ink. I was hoping...”
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